Government refuses to name ‘independent’ advisers on new benefits test


The government has refused to name the “independent specialists” advising it on the new assessment that will test eligibility for the benefit set to replace disability living allowance (DLA).

In its response to the consultation on its DLA reforms, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) says it is developing the assessment for the new personal independence payment (PIP) “in collaboration with a group of independent specialists”, including disabled people.

The DWP told Disability News Service that the “specialists” include representatives from RADAR and Equality 2025 – the government’s advice body of disabled people – and individuals from occupational therapy, psychiatry, physiotherapy, social work, general practice and community psychiatric nursing.

But a DWP spokeswoman said the government was “unable” to provide the names of the members.

When asked why, she suggested the information could be protected under data protection laws, but declined to comment further.

Sue Bott, director of the National Centre for Independent Living, said this refusal was “ridiculous”.

She said: “These people potentially have a big influence on our lives and we are not allowed to know who they are.

“The assessment process, the eligibility and the method of the assessment will be critical in the roll-out of PIP, and I don’t think it is too much to ask that we know who the members of the expert panel are.

“People are really worried about who is going to be eligible in the first place but they are also worried about the methodology that is going to be employed in assessing people and what are they going to be assessed for.

“All this is going to do is add to the suspicion that there already is that the resulting assessment is going to exclude most disabled people from eligibility for the new benefit.”

Theresa Rowe, a disabled activist and welfare rights specialist, said this “aura of secrecy” was “unacceptable”, because the group needed to be “accountable” to disabled people.

She said: “If we have no knowledge of how they recruited this group, how can people feel confident? We need to know who the people are who are helping DWP.”

She said members of the group may be cautioning the government not to repeat the mistakes made with the unpopular work capability assessment, the new test for out-of-work disability benefits. But she said the group was still there to help the government deliver its planned 20 per cent reduction in spending on working-age DLA.

Rowe, who is involved with the disabled people’s organisation Richmond AID, added: “I am just wondering what the government have got to hide.”

11 April 2011